Land O'Lakes, Minnesota Partner on Water Quality Initiative

ASSOCIATED PRESS

MINNEAPOLIS — The state of Minnesota and Land O'Lakes announced a partnership Wednesday to improve water quality in farm country, leveraging the farmer-owned cooperative's retail network to help expand a state program that encourages farmers to voluntarily implement conservation practices.

Land O'Lakes will promote the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program through its seed and crop protection business, WinField US, using its remote sensing technology to map the topography of fields to reduce erosion and better manage runoff. The network has more than 300 agricultural retailers in Minnesota that reach 25,000 farms.

Chris Policinski, CEO and president of Land O'Lakes, called the initiative "a high tech solution to a very important problem."

Speaking at the same news conference at Land O'Lakes headquarters in the St. Paul suburb of Arden Hills, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton said the company's leadership and network "will really propel this endeavor forward in a really significant way."

The governor has made improving water quality a major priority in his second term. Much of his focus has been on agriculture, including his push for more buffer strips between cropland and public waterways.

"We're not going to accomplish this by edict or legislation or regulation, we're going to accomplish this by establishing an ethic of water quality stewardship throughout Minnesota," Dayton said.

Runoff from farm fields is politically difficult to regulate, so the state has promoted voluntary measures such as the certification program, which encourages farmers to implement best conservation practices in return for assurances that they won't be subject to stricter regulations for at least 10 years. Certification also lets participating farmers promote their operations as environmentally friendly.

The program just went statewide after what Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson said was a successful pilot phase. He said 151 farms totaling more than 83,000 acres have been certified so far, with 400 more farms in the pipeline.

Among the first farms certified after the program went statewide was Dorrich Dairy in Glenwood. Getting certified was easy, said co-owner Suzanne Vold. For most farmers, she said, it mostly involves documenting the things they're already doing to protect land and water.

"We can be part of a larger program to say we are already doing these great things to help conserve and protect our natural resources," Vold said.